Making the Grade 12s cry

Why?  What on earth would be the reason? Reason?  Does reason come into this at all?

In Ontario, English is the only subject which is mandatory through all 4 years of high school.  Everyone has to take it, regardless of their area of interest or study.  This is not English as in how-to-communicate-effectively; this is literary analysis of novels.

I’m an English major, and the only time I have used my abilities to analyse literature outside of school is to teach others to analyse literature for school.  It’s really not, I assure you, a life skill.

My Grade 12s are always kinda shaky this time of year.  Universities have given early acceptance, but Grade 12 English marks have to be maintained at a minimum of 75%, or the acceptance is withdrawn.  This applies to Business majors, Maths majors, Computer Science majors; everyone.

This is ridiculous.  Ludicrous.

Endymion has been a little morose for the past couple of weeks.  He’s heading for Ryerson, but has been cursed with a terrible English teacher for the second year in a row.  She assigned an essay on Hamlet two weeks ago, but checked everyone’s thesis yesterday, and decided no one had it right (I’ve been working on the essay with Endymion, and his thesis was a Level 3).  He now has 36 hours to re-write the entire essay.  Endymion has a cognitive processing delay; for him to write a short paragraph in 36 hours is pretty good work.

One of my other Grade 12s was actually in tears last night.  She’s going into the Business programme at Waterloo, but only has a 76%, and is concerned she has no leeway.  She is now writing a comparison essay on 1984 and Brave New World.  She doesn’t have time to do the extra research and essay readings the teacher suggested.  She only got out of the ESL programme a year ago, and has done both her Grade 11 and her Grade 12 English classes this year.  This girl does all the finances for the small grocery store chain her family owns.  She will not need to analyse literature ever again, but her whole future depends on being able to analyse it now.  The next novel her class is working on is Frankenstein, ’cause 200-year-old horror stories are apparently important to one’s education.  This student, by the way, has had a 98% average in all her math, business, and computer courses; she is not ignorant, nor uneducated.

In Guerrilla Learning, Grace Llewellyn lists the 5 keys to learning as: opportunity, timing, interest, freedom and support.  Just about every educator, even these stupid high-school English teachers, would agree with her.  Yet, the only key used here is opportunity; this is the opportunity to make them learn it, or they can’t get on with their lives.

I don’t get what my students see in math… or business… or computers… or biology.  Each time they ask me to correct essays from these classes, I reiterate the caveat: I can only correct grammar and spelling.  They’re okay with this (they find it kind of funny).  It’s strange, though, that money and computers are what drive our society – they may even drive the whole world – yet I don’t have to know anything about them.  Other students like me, we’re free of math in Grade 11, and never have to take a business or computer class.

I think English should be mandatory for all years of high school, but there should be different classes.  Analysis for those who are going to waste their life in the world of English (*snicker*), business writing for those who are going into Business, and Grammar for those so inclined.  There should also be a general I-hate-all-things-English class, where students can work on the things they need to work on most, depending on their particular weaknesses and interests.  If, by age 17, a person has not been convinced leisure reading is a good thing, they will not learn anything by being forced to read novels.  If their idea of leisure reading is a biology text, then the English class should be centred around biology texts… or computer programming manuals… or (*shudder*)  financial statements.  There are some very twisted people in this world, but their literary preferences should be accommodated, too.

P.S.  Math should be mandatory for all 4 years, too, but should also have special classes.  For instance, if someone had taught me to fill out tax forms properly, or figure out a 15% tip, well….

One response to “Making the Grade 12s cry

  1. I think math should be mandatory too, and I quit after grade 11 (general, back when there were university and non-university streams. I spent about 6 months learning to do my taxes, then married the son of an accountant). I also agree there should be more practical English, because as an editor, I’ve met tons of intelligent people who never learned how to put a solid sentence together.

    My 12-year-old spent about 6 months of Hounds of the Baskervilles which, once she finished, she said would make a pretty good movie if the words didn’t suck so much. The vocabulary they spent so much time on was beyond irrelevant.

    As for high school, some teachers are there just to teach students that the world is filled with people who suck and have power over you.


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